We have employed a rat model of orthotopic corneal transplantation to study the characteristics of rejection and development of systemic immunity in the host. Lewis (LEW) rats underwent a true penetrating keratoplasty using Wistar-Furth (WF) donor corneas. A rejection incidence of 55% with a mean survival time (MST) of 17.1 days was observed using these untreated allogeneic corneas. Animals undergoing rejection of these allografts developed cytotoxic Τ lymphocytes (CTL) capable of lysing WF lymphoblasts in a standard 51-chromium release assay. These same rats did not have delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) responses when compared to skin grafted controls. Rats with clear allografts had no demonstrable CTL or DTH activity. As expected, LEW rats that were preimmunized with WF skin grafts and subsequently received WF orthotopic corneal grafts rejected 100% of these corneas at an accelerated rate (MST = 9.7 days, P< .02). We then employed a previously described technique of using latex beads to induce migration of Langerhans cells into the central cornea of the donor graft prior to transplantation. The presence of Langerhans cells in the donor cornea resulted in a higher incidence of rejection (96%) and an accelerated rate (MST = 11.8 days, Ρ < .02) when compared to untreated allografts. These rats also had a higher level of CTL activity and marked DTH responses. These data show that rejection of orthotopic allogeneic corneas is accompanied by the development of systemic alloimmunity as measured by CTL activity. However, these fully allogeneic corneas can be rejected in the absence of DTH responses. Langerhans cells have a dramatic effect on graft survival and are necessary for induction of DTH responsiveness in the host.
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